There’s nothing more revealing of someone’s age than favourite toys. You can almost pinpoint the exact year of birth with it. I’m almost certain that very few people reading this blog will have any idea what I’m talking about when I mention ‘Johnny Seven OMA’ or ‘Secret Sam’. Both were made by American company Topper Toys and heavily advertised in the 60s. The one I really wanted was the Johnny Seven (OMA stood for ‘One man army’).
I knew it was never going to be and I was always cool with that. It was ridiculously expensive and, even then I knew that my only real chance of seeing one, never mind owning one, was to go see my cousin in his posher neighbourhood and hope that one of his mates might have one. It was a big piece of death-dispensing plastic with seven fearsome weapons – a grenade launcher (the best bit), anti-tank rocket, armour-piercing shell, anti-bunker missile, repeating rifle and tommy gun.
It’s ridiculous isn’t it but I don’t remember anyone, even my snooty auntie having any qualms about giving a replica weapon as a present, but then nobody seemed to care about the black and white minstrels either. I was absolutely mad about guns and this was the ultimate. In fact, that Christmas I got a rifle that expelled a spent cartridge shell after each pull of the trigger, all of which were lost by Boxing Day, thereafter replaced by something that promptly jammed (have you ever seen a 60s Corgi Batmobile without a stuck match in it?). I liked the rifle, and years later when I eventually battled it out with the only kid I ever knew with a Johnny Seven (by now completely knackered with bits falling off and all but one of the functions rendered inactive) I felt I came out on top with my more robust and realistically scratched wood and die cast metal affair.
I know this all makes me look a bit James May, but Christmas is a time for truth and honesty and I suppose I am a bit like the wrong-haired Top Gear boy’s boy in this regard. In fact, I became quite good at making my own slightly sad but functional versions of the toys I really wanted later on. I made a very serviceable Secret Sam/James Bond attaché case with a biscuit tin and a plastic gun cut into bits. My Haunted House made from cereal boxes was not quite as successful though. Not until I had access to a more robust grade of cardboard, did I perfect the stair that the ball went down.
Personally, I’ve never had that sinking feeling – I was always chuffed with what I got although I suspect I’ve forgotten most of it and the vast majority will still be landfill somewhere, all too slowly turning back into the oil that made it.
Jonathan Ross is hosting the 100 top toys ever on Sunday and I’ll be surprised if Johnny Seven is in there, though it’ll doubtless be littered with glassy-eyed, barely-out-of-their-teens pundits reminiscing about 80s TV tie-in bits of inanimate plastic with the same nostalgia.
All I want for Christmas is…Rollerskates